Book Review: Core Performance Endurance

As endurance athletes, were all looking for that magic pill or formula to gain just a slight advantage over a competitor or finally breakout of a stubborn plateau.

Unfortunately, many of us subscribe to the "more is better" theory and inevitably find our bodies breaking down or performing poorly as we age. In fact, many of us believe that if we didnt have our jobs or other family commitments, we could be much faster and stronger.

The sad reality is its these jobs or other commitments that keep most people from getting injured or burned out. The extra miles, if added to an inefficient or out of balance body, will do more damage than good. Its important to build training upon a solid foundation of core strength and efficient movement.

The problem is that reducing our weekly mileage, resting more and doing other types of exercise seems counter intuitive. Ever try suggesting to a triathlete that theyd be better off training less in their three sports and focusing on their core strength and efficiency?

Its with these thoughts in mind that Mark Verstegen, author of the best-selling Core Performance and Core Performance Essentials books has just introduced Core Performance Endurance, which focuses, as the title suggests, on endurance athletes.

Weve all heard all the fuss about core performance and yoga, Pilates and other exercises that help strengthen our core, or pillar strength as Verstegen calls it. But all the literature, including Verstegens previous books, is centered on overall fitness or team sports. How does core strength apply to endurance athletes?

Focused on endurance athletes

Core Performance Endurance lays out some very simple and important concepts in its first few chapters that completely address the endurance athletes needs. With a forward by professional triathlete Jessi Stensland and some very good writing from Verstegen, we learn that the endurance mindset of pushing beyond self-imposed barriers is not the best approach.

Verstegen takes the reader through a very enlightening self-evaluation process that a reader can accomplish while reading the book. The simple evaluation involves standing in front of a mirror, lifting one leg until it forms a 90-degree angle and seeing where your knee and foot is positioned relative to your torso.

Not only will most of us feel fatigued or uncoordinated, trying to hold this pose for more than 60 seconds, but we soon learn that our body is not properly aligned, and the years of training have created large muscle imbalances that need to be addressed.

The book goes on to explain that these very basic core alignment issues are not only critical to staying injury-free but are key to developing more power - whether its in running, cycling or swimming. An explanation of Verstegens Movement Prep concept as opposed to standard stretching weve all been taught since middle school is also very enlightening.

Think about it. How many 10k or marathon events have you seen where scores of runners are grabbing a foot and pulling it to their butt or stretching against a wall or tree? This is what weve all been taught. Verstegen says this kind of stretching, instead of improving race performance, actually hinders performance by putting their muscles into submissive holds to the point where they shut off.

Core Performance Endurance says theres nothing wrong with stretching as long as its done after a workout or on a lighter regeneration day. Instead of stretching before a race or workout, we should incorporate movement prep which is an active series of warmup exercises. These exercises serve to increase core body temperature, while lengthening, strengthening and balancing your muscles.

Quality time

The idea, Verstegen explains, is to spend some quality time - and it only needs be 10-15 minutes - every day working on this core stability and symmetry through movement prep. Of course these terms are so misunderstood and overused that Ill simply say Core Performance Endurance is the first book that really puts all the thoughts together into an easy to digest format.

The book goes on to cover the subjects of prehab, hip stability, core stability and shoulder stability. Prehab, as the name suggests, is a series of exercises to take action, on a daily basis, to reduce the potential for injuries.

Nutrition and Hydration

Theres also excellent discussion about nutrition and hydration. Core Performance Endurance says we need to think of nutrition as a workout partner. Its a powerful means to fuel performance and enhance recovery, yet too many athletes ignore the importance of fueling their engines with quality foods.

If you dont give your body the fuel it needs, it becomes catabolic, drawing fuel from your lean muscle - the very thing youve worked so hard to create. Proper post-workout nutrition is essential as it restores your bodys hormonal equilibrium and jump starts repair and recovery.

The reader comes away with an appreciation for thinking more about their training and whats going on inside the body. Too many athletes just go out and pound the pavement, year after year, doing the same workout and routine with very little thought as to whats happening under the hood.

After explaining the underlying concepts for getting the most out your training, Core Performance Endurance saves its most extensive chapter for a variety of illustrated exercises through a level 1 (beginners) and level 2 (advanced) series. The illustrations are clear and explanations easy to follow.

For anybody serious about breaking out of a plateau or addressing those nagging injuries that keep returning no matter how much treatment, anti-inflammatory medication or rest is required, Core Performance Endurance is a must read.

During my competitive years of triathlon, I would have loved a book like this. I used to train, day after day, totally caught up in the number of miles I was logging, instead of stepping back and learning what could make me faster with less time spent on the road or in the water.

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